2021 Legislature a mixed bag for older Kansans

The Active Age

Advocates for older Kansans got some of what they wanted during the 2021 legislative session but found themselves on the losing end of several political battles. The Legislature adjourned April 9 and is expected to return May 3 to consider the budget and any vetoes issued by Gov. Laura Kelly.

“We’re hoping a lot of good work comes the last few days of the veto session,” Ernest Kutzley, lobbyist for Kansas AARP, said. “We’ll continue to push for those things that aren’t done yet. We’ve met with the governor’s staff on several of these issues to let them know where we’re at on them.”

Here’s a quick rundown of issues:

Senior Task Force

The Legislature approved the formation of a two-year task force to study and report back on issues such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, anti-psychotic medications, long-term care facilities, abuse, neglect, funding for senior services and caregiver support. The task force’s 22 members include legislators, state employees, senior organizations and the long-term care industry.

Elder Abuse

New legislation requires the appointment of a statewide coordinator and task forces in each judicial district to investigate cases of elder and dependent abuse in each judicial district. The task forces are designed to preventing complaints from falling through the cracks through a lack of communication between law enforcement agencies and other entities. A legislator said the law stemmed from the 2004 case of sexual, physical and financial abuse at the Kaufman House in Newton, which resulted in its operators being sent to prison.

Medicaid

Republican legislative leaders again blocked any attempt to expand Medicaid in Kansas despite the federal government’s willingness to pick up 90 percent of the cost. Democrats proposed expanding coverage to 120,000 more residents, including 20,000 between the ages of 50 and 64, but the measures never got a hearing. Kansas is one of 12 states that has chosen not to expand Medicaid, forfeiting an estimated $4.6 billion in federal money.

“That’s a bunch of money and way too many people without coverage,” Kutzley said.

Nursing Home Immunity

The Legislature and Kelly gave long-term care facilities near total immunity against lawsuits arising out of COVID-19 deaths. AARP, Kansas Advocates for Better Care and others opposed the measure. About 1,750 nursing home residents have died of COVID-19 in Kansas, representing about 36 percent of the state’s total deaths.

Nurse Practicioners 

The Legislature did not approve allowing advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) to operate on their own in Kansas. They will again be required to have contracts with physicians that cost thousands of dollars. The APRNs had been given autonomy as an emergency measure during the pandemic, but that expired in March. AARP wanted that change made permanent (as about half the states have done) as a way of expanding care to areas underserved by doctors.

Election Laws

The Legislature passed a law limiting the number of advance ballots that a voter could deliver on behalf of other voters in any one election to 10. It wasn’t known at press time if Gov. Kelly will sign the measure into law. AARP opposes the proposed restriction, arguing that many older voters in congregate settings use advance ballots.

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